Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Word Nerd Sez: B is for ...


This episode's choice has been inspired by the upcoming Democratic and Republican political conventions. "Bombastic" is a fun adjective whose definitions include "pompous or overly wordy" and "high-sounding but with little meaning." I'm sure we'll hear plenty of bombastic speeches in Denver and St. Paul. Since many politicians are also pompous "stuffed shirts," calling them "bombastic" is doubly appropriate, since the word comes from the Old French bombace, or "cotton stuffing."

Now, as a word nerd, I do sometimes encounter blank looks when I bring out one of my favorite five-dollar-words in casual conversation. Usually this did not happen when I was living in London. My British friends might make fun of me for saying "pants" instead of "trousers" (forget might—they ruthlessly "took the mickey" out of me), but they wouldn't blink an eye at "officious" or "bombastic." But one time the band I belonged to was performing at the military base where we rehearsed. A Canadian band was visiting, and after the dual-band gig, we sat around and socialized a bit. ("Socialized" in band-speak means "drank alcoholic beverages.") I'm not sure how the subject came up (maybe talking about shared Detroit-Windsor TV experiences), but I mentioned Detroit's former king of TV news, Bill Bonds*, and applied the adjective "bombastic." One of the Canadians looked at me in astonishment and echoed, "Bombastic? Why the fancy word?" Well, duh. I explained that I could have said "pompous, ostentatious, and self-satisfied," but why use three words when one will do? I'm sure my withering scorn would have made a bigger impression on him if he had been sober, but I wasn't about to apologize for my vocabulary. As Ralph Waldo Emerson recognized, "Bare lists of words are found suggestive to an imaginative and excited mind." (Thanks to A.Word.A.Day for the very appropriate quote. If you haven't subscribed yet, you really should.)

*If you want a better idea of Bonds' character (he was eventually fired for a DUI), view this very R-rated attempt at a promo here, surely one of the inspirations for Will Ferrell's "Anchorman."


  1. Shouldn't apologize for using the right word (multisyllabic or not) - the world needs more hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianists.

  2. I agree. And love bombastic for its onomatopoeia.

  3. Sharon BlankenshipAugust 20, 2008 at 10:01 AM

    I also subscribe to AWAD. Love not only finding new words, but tracing old familiar ones to their roots.
    Bombastically said,